A House panel has said it is “concerned with the lengthy delays to process retirement and survivor claims” at OPM, the latest of similar messages over many years.
In a report on a spending bill for fiscal 2023 on general government matters, the Appropriations Committee expressed further concerns about processing of updates of health insurance benefits “as well as other critical changes that impact retirement benefits. These delays cause hardships for federal annuitants and their families.”
The time it takes OPM to process retirement applications long has been a sore point for retirees and late career employees; during that period new retirees receive partial benefits and once a final decision is made, they receive the difference.
The report tells OPM to continue posting monthly reports on processing time, the latest of which showed that average processing time is just under three months—up by about two weeks over the average a year ago. It adds that for those processed in under two months the average is 35 days, and that for those processed in over two months the average is 109 days.
In some cases, though, the process can drag out much longer, especially where the employee has a relatively complex work history and where there are special considerations such as making payments to capture credit toward a federal annuity for military service time.
The report also tells OPM to report on what it is doing “to decrease the processing delays and improve customer service levels, including the average time it takes a caller to reach an OPM operator and the number and percentage of unanswered calls”—another long-standing complaint of retirees and the subject of several critical reports from the agency’s inspector general’s office.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said it hopes that message from the committee “will elevate the urgency of the administration’s efforts to solve these problems. While processing issues and call wait times have been longstanding problems, reports from our members suggest they are getting worse, not better, as of late. And reports of extensive waits for survivor annuities is a recent development that causes acute financial distress at the worst of times . . . they must prevent the situation from deteriorating further and start making real progress.”
In a recent meeting with reporters, OPM director Kiran Ahuja said OPM recognizes the issue and is taking steps such as a more automated application system. Over the years, the agency has announced a number of initiatives based on technology, increased staffing, or both.